Meeting of the minds

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A CEO and an elected leader on NYC’s growing technology industry


  • Council Member Keith Powers (second from right) visited Fog Creek Software’s offices in Lower Manhattan to discuss the state of the city’s technology industry with (from left) Fog Creek’s Jordan Harris, Anil Dash and Meg Tobin. Photo: Michael Garofalo

  • At the Fog Creek meeting. Photo: Michael Garofalo

“These are New York values and this is a New York company,”

Anil Dash, CEO, Fog Creek Software

You might not know Fog Creek Software, but your coder friends probably do.

The Manhattan-based tech company made its name developing products used and loved by computer programmers. Past Fog Creek hits include the project management program Trello and the website Stack Overflow, a question-and-answer and employment forum for developers with 50 million monthly users — “slightly more popular than the Washington Post,” CEO Anil Dash points out.

Dash has built a reputation not just as a developer and entrepreneur, but also as a public intellectual focused on technology and policy. He served as an adviser to the Obama White House’s Office of Digital Strategy and has published commentary and criticism on everything from corporate ethics to office design on his popular blog, which he has written since 1999, and his Twitter feed, which boasts nearly 600,000 followers.

A recent Twitter back-and-forth with New York City Council Member Keith Powers sparked an IRL meeting of the minds. At Dash’s invitation, Powers visited Fog Creek’s Financial District offices on a late July afternoon for a tour of the space — roomy, clean white and open-plan, with plentiful private office areas and splashes of vibrant color, plus an outdoor terrace overlooking the downtown scrum — and an exchange of ideas on what the municipal government can learn from the tech sector and vice versa.

To Powers, who represents much of Manhattan’s East Side and is a native of Stuyvesant Town, Dash is both neighbor and constituent. The pair first met when Powers made a fortuitous campaign knock at the door of Dash’s Stuy Town apartment during his successful Council run last year. They’ve stayed in touch since, exchanging tweets and running into one another around the neighborhood.

When Fog Creek was founded 20 years ago, it was still an against-the-grain choice for a software company to be based in the Big Apple rather than Silicon Valley. Times changed. As the industry has grown, with giants like Facebook and Google setting up shop alongside startups and homegrown “middle class” companies like Fog Creek, the city has sought to leverage its position through initiatives like the Tech Talent Pipeline training program, a recently launched technology education lab in Brownsville and plans for a new Union Square tech hub.

“My interest is in making sure New York City students are prepared for these jobs,” Powers said.

Students are already making use of Fog Creek’s latest product, Dash said, a platform called Glitch that allows coders to easily collaborate on projects. Glitch hosts a library of over one million user-built apps that anyone can remix and build upon, ranging from simple animations made by kids learning to code in schools to an app that plays an album on Spotify when users take a photo of the cover art.

“What’s interesting is that the problem-solving skills these kids are using are the same that you encounter in high-level coding,” Dash said, adding, “The goal isn’t that every kid should be a coder, it’s that they should be fluent enough to know the impact code has on their life.”

Powers also took interest in Fog Creek’s benefits and policies, which include company-provided Metrocards, generous family leave and a fully subsidized insurance package staff jokingly refer to as the “Cuban health care plan.” The Council, Powers said, looks to the private sector for insight as it crafts new policy on workplace issues like harassment, child care and paid leave. “I appreciate what you guys are doing in terms of creating an inviting workplace, Powers said. “I think it’s something that’s much needed in New York, where we often have a mentality of ‘just go.’”

“If you take away entire categories of concerns from people, it turns out they’re incredibly productive,” Dash said.

Dash connects Fog Creek’s collective attitude on issues like diversity (“The goal is that this company should look like this city”) and transit (“We are an entirely car-free company”) to a sense of place-based identity. “These are New York values and this is a New York company,” he said.

It’s no coincidence, Dash thinks, that companies that have been the “justifiable blowback” of late for their perceived negative impact on New York — the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world — tend to be based on the West Coast. “Nobody in those companies rides the subway to work every day, and that’s why they have those policies,” he said.

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